Marriage: A History

Monday, August 17, 2009
Today is my parents' 35th Anniversary, and so I'm going to force you to go on a scenic tour of their marriage (don't worry, I'm only going to post a few pictures.) This is actually my second attempt at writing a blog post - the first one involved me trying to express real emotion that isn't rooted in sarcasm. But, as it turns out, I'm not capable of that. So I'm going to have to fall back on the usual sarcasm and mocking - which, my Mother has informed me, I owe her a big and very sincere thank you for in the book version of "A Book a Day." She feels like she's earned it after letting me trash her for a solid year. I've agreed to her terms (although a sincere thank you is going to be difficult for me), but I do object to her use of the word "trash," I prefer to think of it as gentle mocking.

When my Grandparents celebrated their 60th Anniversary a few years ago, my siste r and I made a "60 Years of World & Wetzel News" timeline. I'll spare you the world news (but only because I'm too lazy to go and look that stuff us), and just go right to the 35 years of Wetzel News (please don't panic, this is going to be a short timeline, and I'm going to spare you all of the bad 80s hair pictures because, as my Mother put it, "Enough people had to look at that at the time.")

1974 - Mom and Dad get married, thereby setting into effect the chain of events that lead to you sitting here reading this blog (that's right, it's always all about me.)

Let me assure you dear readers, that is not a picture of their wedding. They had a real wedding with flowers and a veil and everything - but my Mother is still bitter about having Carol Brady hair on her wedding day, so I've agreed to not share that picture with the world (I'm such a good daughter.)

So they were married for a few years and did a bunch of boring married stuff, and then:

1977-1982 - We came along and made their lives fun and interesting.

I have no idea why we're sitting in a toy box in this picture. That's just the kind of crazy kids we were.

1984 - Dad begins wearing orange shoes (which will eventually become known in the family as "Dad's pumpkin shoes"), and Mom starts to wonder if the marriage can continue. She agreed to "For better or for worse," but she did not agree to appearing in public with a man who is wearing orange shoes.

1986 - Mom gets a really bad 80s perm - the marriage is severly tested as a result.

But they weathered the bad hair and clothing moments - and then came the 90s:

90s Things begin to stablize with both Mom and Dad's hair and clothes - mostly because my sister and I made a joint decision that we were putting a firm stop to the hideousness that was going on all around us. So Alissa began working to improve Mom's hair, and I convinced Dad that newscaster hair is not his best look.

2004 - Mom and Dad renew their wedding vows in Hawaii - and I learn that it is actually possible for me to attend a wedding that doesn't bore me senseless.

Today's book, "Marriage has never been more fragile. But the same things that have made it so have also made a good marriage more fulfilling than ever before. In this enlightening and hugely entertaining book, historian and marriage expert Stephanie Coontz takes readers from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the sexual torments of Victorian couples to demonstrate how recent the idea of marrying for love is-and how absurd it would have seemed to most of our ancestors. It was only 200 years ago that marriage began to be about love and emotional commitment, and since then the very things that have strengthened marriage as a personal relationship have steadily weakened it as a social institution. Marriage, A History brings intelligence, wit, and some badly needed perspective to today's marital debates and dilemmas."

Fun facts about marriage:

  • In ancient China and Sudane, young people frequently entered into ghost marriages (also known as spirit marriages), in which they were given in marriage to the dead son or daughter of another family. - This naturally begs the question: What about ghost divorces? What happens when a woman just can't deal with the way her dead husband refuses to help out around the house? Or when a man just can't deal with his wife's lack of warmth anymore? (It's possible that last comment might have been tacky even for me.) But, sadly, the book does not address my most pressing questions about ghost marriages.

  • In some small-scale socities (such as among the Vanatinai of the South Pacific), a man and woman are considered married if they are seen eating together alone. - I think we can all share a collective sigh of relief that we don't live in the South Pacific (unless of course you do, in which case, I'm so international to have a reader in the South Pacific, how exciting!!) or we would all be stuck in some very bad marriages right now. But there are some places so dark that we really shouldn't visit them for long, so let us turn out thoughts to happier things.

  • In England in 1711 the average age of death was 32. By 1831 that figure had risen to 44, and by the end of the century it had reached the high fifties - therefore the average duration of marriage extended as well. - Well no wonder people got divorced less then. Why would you ever need to divorce your annoying husband if he's two steps away from death anyway. All you'd have to do is sit back and think, One outbreak of smallpox is all it's going to take and he's out of my hair for good. So one day your neighbors get quarantined and, Oops, you forget to tell your husband before he goes over to get the tool he let them borrow and . . . problem solved.

  • Margaret Mead once asked a New Guinea villager why the people in his village didn't marry inside of their own family (which doesn't seem like the kind of question you should have to ask someone, but maybe Margaret forgot to take her ginkgo that day and wasn't firing on all cylinders), and his response was, "Don't you realize that if you marry another man's sister and another man marries your sister, you'll have at least two brothers-in-law, while if you marry your own sister you will have none? With whom will you garden? Who will you go to visit?" - Yes, that's the exact reason why you shouldn't marry your own brother, forget the whole incest thing, and the disgusting factor, and the fact that your own mother would then be both your mother and your mother-in-law (which is a horrify thought, because I just know whoever my brother marries won't be good enough for her little golden boy, even if that person was me) - clearly the reason why you shouldn't marry your relatives is because you don't want to get stuck having to attend dinner parties at the exact same house every week.

  • Muskrat Love is the most annoying song in history. - Okay, so that's not really a fun fact about marriage, but the book does mention the song, which led to a few unpleasant hours of being haunted by it. Captain & Tenille owe me a huge apology right about now. After I finally got the song out of my head, I became fascinated by the idea of trying to figure out if they ever had a song that wasn't unbearably annoying. As of this moment, I would have to say that answer it definitely no.